I made the following speech during the debate on the Energy strategy at the June States Meeting. The States was meeting remotely at this time.
I thought I would begin by picking up on comments made by Deputy Lester Queripel just now and Deputy De Lisle in the previous debate regarding the use of solar panels and the States not doing anything about it. He and other members might like to know that before the public health emergency, HSC officers had been working with Guernsey Electricity to progress the installation of panels on top of John Henry Court at the PEH Campus. This will be picked up again as the dust settles. And we also intend that they will be integrated into the hospital modernisation programme. Deputy Inder talks about payback but tech has moved on incredibly in the last few years and payback period reduced significantly.
Moving on to the policy letter itself, I thought it interesting to note that health is not expressly mentioned in it.
However, I think it is worth pointing out that
- The 2010 Marmot Review that focused on the social determinants of health labelled climate change as a fundamental threat to health and stated that mitigating climate change would also help mitigate health inequalities;
- And in his update that was published earlier this year it was noted harm to health from climate change is increasing and will affect more deprived communities the most in future. Climate change affects health and worsens inequalities; older people are at most risk of extremes of heat and cold; lower income groups are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather by virtue of living in poorer quality housing in vulnerable locations and conditions and not being able to afford to move, and tenants are more vulnerable than owner occupiers as they have less ability to modify their homes and to prepare for and recover from climate events.
Cold homes have a wide range of impacts on both physical and mental health, and the health impacts of cold weather partially underlies the higher overall mortality rate seen in winter compared to other seasons. Some of the most common physical health impacts include respiratory conditions, and an increased risk of hypertension, heart attacks and stroke. Fuel poverty is a clear driver of health inequalities.
Cold homes are also associated with mental health problems in adolescents and adults, slower weight gain in infants, and increased risk of asthma and hospital admissions in young children. Fuel poverty has also been found to contribute to social isolation, and can restrict expenditure on food – the so-called ‘heat or eat’ dilemma.
So, having said all that, I welcome proposition 13 To direct the Committee for Employment & Social Security working with the Committee for the Environment & Infrastructure to co-ordinate an investigation of the most effective means of addressing energy poverty and report back to the States by the Q2 2021.
But I have to say I was really disappointed that the only reference to domestic properties was in a couple of paragraphs that just talk about how to improve energy efficiency through building regulations and measuring the energy efficiency standard of local housing stock.
It really doesn’t go far enough. I believe we could and should be far bolder on this.
Excess winter mortality (EWM) has been shown to vary widely across Europe and, contrary to what one might expect, countries with relatively mild winter temperatures tend to show much higher rates of EWM than countries where winter temperatures are very low. EWM, when seen locally is always among older people.
Low indoor temperature has been shown to correlate with EWM from cardiovascular disease in England. The nature of the built environment may be one significant contributory factor to the observed EWM in Guernsey and Alderney. Homes tend to have less heat-conserving design features like cavity wall insulation and double glazing, making them harder to heat where winters are milder.
The joint strategic needs assessment of the over 50s that we published last year pointed out that during interviews with stakeholders many older people felt ‘property rich but cash poor’ and this caused issues for many care providers. Some were living in homes which have been family homes for generations but have not been modernised and are expensive to maintain and heat. There is a perceived lack of affordable options to down size to, or methods of releasing equity but maintaining ownership and life enjoyment. The impact on finances is significant and can affect the ability of people to access primary care medical services, dental care, opticians, and also the ability to fund activities and transport.
Alongside this, until very recently with another threat having taken over our consciousness, people have been bombarded with news stories about the impact of climate change, with demands that we declare a climate change emergency. Notwithstanding the clear impact climate change has been having, it has instilled a feeling of helplessness for some, anxiety, grief and despair, particularly for the younger members of our community.
The one thing that government could do to mitigate climate change, reduce fossil fuel consumption, support the poorest members of our community and make people feel they can do something about climate change is through a scheme to help support people to properly insulate their homes. A scheme that supports people to insulate their homes could significantly reduce energy consumption with 30% of heat loss resulting just from a poorly insulated attic.
I think Deputy Laurie Queripel’s comment regarding ventilation are well made but clearly will be something considered as part of any assessment of a property prior to installation.
I understand that this is a high level document and so it is probably not the place for it. However, I really do think this is absolutely the sort of thing that should be considered as part of our recovery plan. A sustainable solution that follows the principle of building back better, or revive and thrive or whatever tagline we use.
We really do need to debate the recovery plan as soon as possible and it really does need to be a plan that covers social, environmental as well as economic recovery. The six objectives for Guernsey’s energy future as set out in this policy letter are all well and good but what we need to do, as a matter of urgency, is convert them into tangible action if we are going to recover from this unprecedented emergency better and stronger for future generations.